Crossings, magical and otherwise

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KIndle cover 200x300There’s a railroad crossing on the cover of my upcoming novella Conjure Woman’s Cat because several incidents in the book occur at a crossing and crossings are associated with magic.

The Florida Panhandle has traditionally been tied to the timber and turpentine industries. In the 1950s era when my book was set, pines, pulpwood, scraped trees with cups collecting resin for turpentine, and logging trains were common sights.

In modern times, we associate road crossings with red lights, traffic jams, hard-to-make left turns and accidents. Railroad crossings are places where drivers have to wait for trains and, by all means, stop, look and listen.

Crossings have always been associated with danger. Robberies happened there, armed men clashed there, and people got lost there.

All of this translates nicely into various forms of folk magic, including hoodoo, and in mythology. Like borders, crossroads were often considered to be uncertain places where realms, domains, countries and states of mind came together. Such places were often like oil and water in that they didn’t properly mix–“neither here nor there” folks often said. There is power at a crossroads, for good and ill.

quincunx - click on art for the Wikipedia page.

quincunx – click on art for the Wikipedia page.

In hoodoo, the crossroads is the place where one summons demons and bargains for skills they need: in my novella, a young girl goes to a crossing to learn how to sing the blues. “Crossing” also refers to wavy lines an X mark (or quincunx) placed on the ground where one harms or shames another person through “foot-track magic.”

Powders and liquids used to jinx the path where the victim is expected to walk are said to enter or contact that person through the soles of his feet. Folks who know conjure, watch where they walk and also carry mojo bags, charms and other items to ward off evil.

Today we use the term “street wise” to those who know what to watch out for in the inner city; I think we can safely say one needs to be equally aware in a rural area where a root doctor (conjure woman) lives.

Railroad cars with logs - Saint Marks, Florida, photo by Johnson, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Railroad cars with logs – Saint Marks, Florida, photo by Johnson, State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Turpentine and pulpwood mean logging trains, a constant image in my book. People traveling the road into town see bulkhead flat cars at the railroad crossing heading for the paper mill. Where the tracks cross the road is also a tempting place to “lay a trick.”

I like the interplay of the magical and the real, and “crossings” (symbolic and real) offer a lot of “neither here nor there” kinds of places in a conjure story. A piney woods story wouldn’t be real without railroad crossings, bulkhead flat cars (typical for hauling wood) and turpentine stills.

I hope readers will enjoy the double meanings in the story as well the dangerous events that occur where one road (or railroad) crosses another road.

luckymojoYou can read an interesting summary of crossings in hoodoo at the extensive Lucky Mojo site.  (To Put on Curses, Jinxes, and Crossed Conditions, To Destroy Luck and Change Good Luck to Bad, For Revenge and Spiritual Antagonism).

You can read the Wikipedia overview of crossroads magic here and the post Mystery, Magic & Mayhem of the Crossroads here.

As always, I enjoy pulling the details and secrets of a place into my fiction and very much sharing the Florida world where I grew up.

Malcolm

 

 

 

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4 responses

  1. Don’t “they” say that Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil at a crossroads for his trumpet playing talent?
    I love crossroads. They are places of possibility.
    Thank you for reminding me. What a fun post.

  2. Another wonderful post, Malcolm. Thank you once more. 🙂 I, too, love the notion and traditions of the crossroads, and different ways people see or saw them. Thin places. And the X reminds me, too, of the Gebo rune, which might perhaps bring another bit of magical intel into the crossroads reflections!

    • I liked the fantasy novel Uncertain Places (Linda Goldstein) because it talked about this kind of thing, the where magic happens kinds of places. For a writer or a lover of magic, the more uncertain the better.